This project will take the approach of a micro history to explain the dispersal project. It will be much too big a project to catalog in detail all of the more than twenty projects undertaken by the Nazis, so the dissertation will focus on two projects in detail and extrapolate the findings to understand the other projects. A tunnel project in Halberstadt, Germany provides a unique case study in that its use spanned several German governments. In addition to being used by the Nazi government as a munitions depot, this tunnel was used by the East German government for storage, and the unified German government after 1990 to store the now useless East German currency. The tunnels in Halberstadt were used mainly as a military storage depot, and while not as sensational as tunnels created by slave labor and used by German businesses, it did play a part in the German dispersal program. A second tunnel project will be selected after more preliminary research has been collected about the status and purpose of each of the projects under research. Criteria in selecting an ideal dispersal project include one that shows the interaction between the selected business and the Nazi government. This focus on the practical and economic issues, the use of slave labor and the interaction between business and government of two underground projects, while keeping in mind the similarities and differences found in other projects, will help to establish baselines and commonalities with which to compare other dispersal projects as well as other Nazi-German business relationships and other Nazi building programs.

Such historical micro-studies are common and are useful in addressing the multiple layers with which to view a historical topic. An exemplary work using the method of micro histories is The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town, 1922-1945, by William Sheridan Allen. In this work, Allen not only addresses the issue of how the Nazis came to power, but shows the small details from one town and is able to expand that to a larger national framework. 1 While Allen’s results can not be applied to every town in Germany, the findings are indicative of many such towns. The insights and knowledge gained about the local application of the NSDAP changed historical understanding of the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. A similar outcome is expected with the two chapters of micro-history in this study.

One of the unique aspects of the dissertation project is that it will explore the confluence of new media with historical writing. This project will be greatly enhanced by many digital aspects including creating an online archive of primary sources, a website and blog for public and peer feed back as the dissertation is being written, usage of graphics and maps, and digital representations of some of the projects. It is hoped that through this use of technology, the project will show how our understanding of the past is augmented by forms of new media in that new ways of looking at data require historians to ask different questions and perhaps come to different conclusions. Digital information about the project, including analytical and scholarly writing, as well as digitized source materials, will be available on this website (http://nazitunnels.org).

Notes:

  1. Allen argues that the NSDAP was able to gain power in Northeim because of several congruent factors. Firstly, social changes led to the disillusion of social classes, which led to weak and uncoordinated political parties unfit to oppose the NSDAP (specifically the efforts of the middle class to suppress lower class parties). Second, local Nazi party members played to local sentiments towards nationalism while their strongest opponents, the SDP, were against such ideology. Finally, local NSDAP leaders tailored political speeches to local fears and issues. After they gained power, they forcefully removed all previous opposition.

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